Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 28

/ Doctrine & Covenants 28 / Commentary

Find helpful commentary on the verses below to better understand the message of this revelation.

Verses 1-7

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

Although revelation from God is available to every member of the Church, these verses teach that revelation governing the whole Church must come through “the head of the Church.” Oliver is told that in his role as an apostle (see D&C 27:12) and second Elder of the Church (see D&C 20:3) he is to be as Aaron was to Moses. That is, he is to obediently receive the revelations that come through Joseph and then “declare faithfully” those revelations to the Church “with power and authority.” He may be led by the Spirit to “speak or teach” by way of commandment to Church members, but he should never “write by way of commandment, but by wisdom”—suggesting that Oliver’s writings are not to be binding on the Church.

 

Similarly in our day, apostles who are not the Church president cannot receive new doctrinal revelations that are binding on the Church. President Dallin H. Oaks referenced this very revelation as he explained this important nuance of Church governance saying, “Modern revelation clearly declares that an Apostle can write ‘by wisdom,’ but not by commandment (D&C 28:5) (His Holy Name, (1998) p. viii-ix).

 

President Harold B. Lee affirmed that revelation affecting the entire Church will come through the President of the Church, not through individual members, such as Hiram Page in this instance. “Do you suppose that when the Lord has his prophet on the earth, that he is going to take some round-about means of revealing things to his children?” he asked. “That is what he has a prophet for, and when he has something to give to this Church, he will give it to the President, and the President will see that the presidents of stakes and missions get it, along with the General Authorities; and they in turn will see that the people are advised of any new change” (“The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” Address to CES Educators, July 8, 1964, 11).

 

Speaking on a related principle regarding the revelatory structure of the Church in our own day, President Boyd K. Packer taught that the authority to receive revelation on behalf of others is determined by hierarchical stewardships: “Revelation continues in the Church: the prophet receiving it for the Church; the president for his stake, his mission, or his quorum; the bishop for his ward; the father for his family; the individual for himself” (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1974/04/we-believe-all-that-god-has-revealed?lang=eng).

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 8-10

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

In these verses, the Lord corrects Oliver for accepting the revelations given to Hiram Page “concerning the upbuilding of Zion”—a subject about which the Lord has not yet revealed. However, Oliver remained an apostle and the second elder of the Church and was here given a new charge. Though Oliver is counseled not to give revelations by way of commandment, the Lord reiterates Oliver’s ability to receive revelation in his own sphere and assignments. Specifically, Oliver is given charge to lead the first mission of the Church. Within a few weeks of receiving this revelation, Oliver departed with several missionaries to the borders of the United States to teach the gospel to Native Americans.

 

The journey of these missionaries eventually led them to Independence, Missouri, just a few miles from the farthest western boundary of the United States at the time. The work in Missouri was significant because of its relation to one of the subjects that Page’s revelations focused on: the location of the New Jerusalem, prophesied of in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 21:22–25; Ether 13:4–6). In verse 9, the Lord provides the first clue about the location of the city, which the early Saints called Zion, by saying the city “shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.” In the summer of 1831, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to travel to Missouri (D&C 52:1–2) and later gave a revelation identifying the location of the city of Zion in that state (D&C 57:1–3).

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute) 

Verses 11-16

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

In verses 11–16, the Lord deals gently with Hiram Page and does not subject him to public censure for the revelations he received through his seer stone. Instead, the Lord tells Oliver to take Hiram aside privately and explain that the revelations he received did not come from God and that Hiram was deceived by Satan. From the revelation there does not appear to have been any malicious intent on Hiram’s part. He remained a faithful member of the Church until 1838, when the entire Whitmer family departed from the Church. He also never denied his testimony as one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon.

 

Members of the Church today are still subject to deception by accepting revelations that come from places outside of accepted stewardships and channels of revelation. President Joseph F. Smith warned, “From the days of Hiram Page, at different periods there have been manifestations from delusive spirits to members of the Church. Sometimes these have come to the men and women who because of transgression became easy prey to the Arch-Deceiver. At other times people who pride themselves on their strict observance of the rules and ordinances and ceremonies of the Church are led astray by false spirits, who exercise an influence so imitative of that which proceeds from a Divine source that even these persons, who think they are “the very elect,” find it difficult to discern the essential difference. Satan himself has transformed himself to be apparently ‘an angel of light.’”

 

President Smith continued, “When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or any extraordinary gift or inspiration, convey something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. Also, they should understand that directions for the guidance of the Church will come, by revelation, through the head. All faithful members are entitled to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for themselves, their families, and for those over whom they are appointed and ordained to preside. But anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable. In secular as well as spiritual affairs, Saints may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves, but this does not convey authority to direct others, and is not to be accepted when contrary to Church covenants, doctrine or discipline, or to known facts, demonstrated truths, or good common sense.”

 

“Be not led by any spirit or influence that discredits established authority and contradicts true scientific principles and discoveries or leads away from the direct revelations of God for the government of the Church. The Holy Ghost does not contradict its own revealings. Truth is always harmonious with itself. Piety is often the cloak of error. The counsels of the Lord through the channel he has appointed will be followed with safety, therefore, O! ye Latter-day Saints, profit by these words of warning. (Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, “A Warning Voice,” Improvement Era, Sept. 1913, pp. 1148–49.)

 

After receiving the revelation recorded in section 28, Oliver Cowdery, Hiram Page, and the Whitmer family rejected the writings received via the seer stone. Newel Knight recalled, “After much labor and prayer they were convinced of their error and confessed the same and renounced it being it was not of God” (The Rise of the Latter-day Saints, 2019, 21). According to Emer Harris, Hiram Page’s seer stone was subsequently “broke to powder and the writings burnt” (Provo Utah Central Stake General Minutes, 6 April 1856, vol. 10, 273).

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)